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rights groups and lawmakers

UltraViolet, MoveOn, NARAL Pro-Choice America, MomsRising, Catholics for Choice, and National Council of Jewish Women held a press conference about the Women's Health Protection Act with its sponsors, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), in Washington, D.C. on September 29, 2021. (Photo: NARAL/Twitter)

'Everything Is on the Line': Senate Under Pressure to Protect Abortion Rights

"We will do whatever it takes to ensure the passage of the Women's Health Protection Act and urge senators on both sides of the aisle to vote 'yes' without delay."

Jessica Corbett

With reproductive freedom under attack nationwide, six advocacy groups on Wednesday delivered 300,000 petition signatures pressuring the U.S. Senate to urgently pass House-approved legislation that would ensure the right to abortion under federal law.

The petition delivery and press conference outside the U.S. Capitol came ahead of hundreds of marches planned for Saturday across the country. Organizers of the #RallyforAbortionJustice events are calling on members of Congress to pass both the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Act and the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA).

The EACH Act (H.R. 2234/S. 1021) would scrap the decades-old Hyde Amendment, which bars federal Medicaid funding for most abortion care. Critics of the amendment point out that it especially harms "people with low incomes, people of color, young people, and immigrants—who all disproportionately rely on Medicaid for their healthcare coverage."

Nearly all House Democrats came together last week to pass WHPA (H.R. 3755/S. 1975), in response to Senate Bill 8, a recently enacted abortion ban in Texas, as well as mounting fears that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade.

WHPA is sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who joined the Wednesday press conference. The bill faces an uphill battle in the evenly split Senate, due to some Democrats' refusal to abolish the filibuster to advance the party's priorities.

As Roll Call reported after the House vote last week:

Two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, oppose the bill. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of two Republicans in the Senate who often votes in favor of abortion rights, is also opposed to the bill.

Advocates also fear that the Senate will be the roadblock to removing the Hyde amendment, an annual appropriations rider that prevents federal funding of abortion in most cases. The House-passed fiscal 2022 Labor-[Health and Human Services]-Education spending bill did not include Hyde language.

UltraViolet is one of the groups that circulated a petition in support of WHPA, highlighting that it would not only "stop the Republican onslaught of anti-abortion and abortion-restrictive legislation coming out of state legislatures" but also "block states from creating barriers to care and… protect health service providers' ability to offer abortion care."

"Over the past several weeks, right-wing extremists have inched us closer and closer toward a society without the precedent of Roe v. Wade," said Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns at UltraViolet. "Despite the Biden administration's best efforts and legal challenges in several states, we cannot protect abortion access without federal protections like those in WHPA."

"A vote against WHPA is a vote for laws like S.B. 8," Spoo added. "We will do whatever it takes to ensure the passage of the Women's Health Protection Act and urge senators on both sides of the aisle to vote 'yes' without delay."

MomsRising, MoveOn, and NARAL Pro-Choice America circulated their own petitions in support of the bill. Catholics for Choice and National Council of Jewish Women partnered for another one. Members of all the groups came together in Washington, D.C. Wednesday morning.

"Enactment of the Women's Health Protection Act is absolutely essential to the health, autonomy, and fundamental rights and dignity of America's moms," said Ruth Martin, senior vice president of MomsRising, in a statement. "Most women who choose abortion are moms, and we all have the right to make that intensely personal [decision] without intrusion from government."

"Unless the Women's Health Protection Act becomes law, people in states with anti-choice leadership, low-income and young women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and those in other vulnerable communities will be denied basic healthcare," Martin warned. "Our country wants and needs this law."

Noting that last year, "voters turned out in record numbers for Democrats and put them in White House and in the majorities in Congress in part to protect us at this very moment," MoveOn executive director Rahna Epting declared, "Our message is simple: Our millions of members are watching this vote."

"We are watching who is with us and who is against us. We are watching who will fight for us and who will go through the motions. The attacks are different this time," she said, calling for a parallel response. "Everything is on the line."

As the Biden administration and reproductive rights supporters battle S.B. 8 in court, Republicans in other states are already working to replicate the law, which bans abortions after six weeks—before many people know they are pregnant—without exceptions for rape or incest.

Texas' law also entices anti-choice vigilantes to sue anyone other than the patient who "aids or abets" an abortion after the six-week mark with the offer of a $10,000 bounty—part of an "unprecedented scheme" to make it harder to challenge the measure in court.

While justice advocates emphasize the importance of passing WHPA to codify Roe and permanently block laws like S.B. 8, they also argue that the 1973 ruling should be treated as simply a starting point for reproductive rights and healthcare.

"We fight for Roe v. Wade. But Roe is the floor, not the ceiling," tweeted Rachel O'Leary Carmona, executive director of Women's March, one of the groups behind Saturday's events.

"Communities of color have struggled to access abortion care, something that Roe doesn't address," she added. "We need to abolish the filibuster and pass the WHPA to solve these inequities. Now."

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